Red Mulch, Black mulch, Brown mulch
Hardwood, Pine and Shredded. Aren’t they all the same? If you buy it on sale at Lowes and need a few more bags, you can get the same mulch on sale at Home Depot, right? Or even Menards or the local garden center. Well, not always.
Mulch is made from a variety of materials. Most often it is organic materials such as wood chips and tree bark. But it may also be made of soft wood like pine or cedar and discarded wood like pallets, old decks or lumber.
Stick With The REAL Stuff
Wood chips from hardwood and hardwood bark are your best choices. Hardwood trees such as maples and oaks are used for the majority of hardwood mulch.
You can use pine or cedar and it will be cheaper, but it will not last as long. Hardwood also helps to control weeds and improve appearance. Hardwood has great moisture retention and it will last longer than mulch made from old pallets or lumber. It will also enrich the soil as it decomposes.
Hardwood bark is made from 100% tree bark, and not pieces of wood or lumber. Lowes and Home Depot will both have premium hardwood. It contains nutrition for your plants as it decomposes and improves the soil as it breaks down.
Where does hardwood come from? When hardwood trees are taken to a saw mill, the logs are run through a machine that removes the bark before they are cut into lumber.
The machine shreds the bark up to three times, depending on how chunky the end product needs to be. This is why you may see shredded, double shredded or triple shredded on the bags you buy. This also lets you know your are buying mulch that is made 100% from hardwood bark.
Shopping At Home Depot
Stay Away From Wood Chips, Dyed Mulch, Fines and Fake Mulches
Some mulches pretend to be hardwood bark mulch and they are not. These are made of wood pallets, old decking, wood chips from tree trimmers, recycled wood waste and old lumber. These contain little to no bark at all and are usually just 100% wood. They may be sold as Pine mulch or mulch fines.
Some may even contain pressure treated CCA lumber. CCA stands for Chromium, Copper and Arsenic. These chemicals were used to preserve wood, usually on decks until 2003. CCA is restricted now to mostly commercial applications.
Most residential decking sold today is treated with alkaline copper quaternary ACQ or Copper Azole. Both are water-based wood preservatives for residential use. But old decks are being torn up and the wood sold as mulch or bedding material. This ground up wood is then sprayed with a dye to give it a uniform color.
What to look out for
Definitely stay away from any that uses old decking or CCA treated lumber. The dye along with contaminants like chromium, copper and arsenic break down into the soil and can kill beneficial insects and worms and sometimes even plants.
Now using just old wood or chips might help to keep down weeds, but this wood contain no nutrition for your plants, and break down and lose color rapidly. Once this wood is ground up to look like mulch, the material is dyed so it has a deep color, usually brown, red or black. But the color fades fast. Sometimes after just two or three thunderstorms.
Now if you need to buy a colored dyed mulch, remember to stick with a hardwood. Sometimes you really need a red color to go with your landscape instead of a natural bark look. I know thats what I do too! But dont use a pine or softwood. The color fades fast and will usually break down within a year.
The 2 Cubic Foot Bag Premium Hardwood
This is the most popular mulch sold. Usually this is priced around $3.00 a bag, but several times a year you can find it at Lowes and Home Depot at 5 bags for $10.
Generally this is the Premium Hardwood and is available in Red, Black and Brown. Color will last about 1-2 years. Both stores usually have the Scotts brand of hardwood available too.
Use A Calculator
When buying you need a good estimate of how much you are going to use. Here are our favorite calculators from Lowes, Home Depot and Scotts.
LandScapeCalculator.com: Use Landscapecalculator
Scotts Mulch Calculator: Scotts Mulch Calculator
Need More Information?
If you are looking for a great guide to mulch, check out the following link from akhomeshow.com: Complete Guide To Mulch: Tips, Tricks and Considerations For Beginners.
You can use mulch on vegetable gardens to flower beds to walking paths. It improves soils by retaining moisture for plant use. Mulched areas are healthier, have fewer weeds, and are more drought-resistant.
Using mulch will allow you to spend less time watering, weeding, and fighting insect problems too. Which mulch you choose really depends on what look you want for your garden or landscape. There are many choices out there, so review your options and plan it out and you will pleased with the results for many years.
By Victoria Stone